“Salt of the earth, Light of the world.”  In Matthew 5:13-20, Jesus continues his “Sermon on the Mount” to his disciples, calling them the salt of the earth and light of the world.  During Advent, we prepared for the coming of Light to our world–we prepared for the birth of Christ.  However, now Jesus tells the disciples that they are the light of the world.  When we have Christ, we have the light of the world in us, and we are called to be that light, and to share that light.

The “salt of the earth” saying has always been a funny one, because salt really cannot lose its saltiness, it’s taste.  Therefore, once you become the salt of the earth, you continue to be the salt.  As a light, you cannot be hid under a bushel, a city built on a hill cannot become hidden, as Jesus says.

Once we turn to Christ, our actions and our words portray our relationship with God.  We are forever salt, we are forever light.  We are forever viewed that way–if we reject Christ, we are seen as rejecting the light, the salt that we have.  Jesus says “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven” (vs. 16).  Once we come to know Christ, we can never hide our light or lose our salt.  We can, however, become dim and dull when we no longer act in a manner worthy of Christ.  We can lose our saltiness and not be good for anything.  These are hard sayings to understand, but we are reminded in 2 Timothy 13: “If we are faithless, he remains faithful–for he cannot deny himself.”  Even if we reject Christ, we still have the potential to be the salt of the earth, the light of the world, for that light is Jesus.

Jesus continues his discourse to the disciples telling them that he did not come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it.  Just as Moses received the law on Mt. Sinai, so Jesus is passing on his teachings to his disciples.  As a continuation from last week’s lesson, the law is not about being right or wrong, but rather doing the work of God.  Jesus then tells the disciples that their righteousness must exceed that of the Pharisees of they will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

Harsh words!  It is important for us to note that while Jesus comes into conflict with the Pharisees often in the Gospels, the Pharisees and Jesus were not far apart in their teachings.  The Pharisees were the sect that believed in the Resurrection.  The Pharisees believed in repentance.  However, the Pharisees were concerned with being right.  They were concerned with the letter of the law in terms of whether they were on the right side or the wrong side.  Jesus’ main criticism of the Pharisees was the living out of that law.  It was almost as if the law was worshiped by some rather than God.

The Pharisees so strictly interpreted the law that the poor who could not afford the sacrifice in the temple were considered unclean.  The sick were considered sinners.  Prostitutes, who were often widows and young women who had no father or husband to care for them in a patriarchal society where very few women could own property themselves, were considered abominations.  Tax collectors who worked under the Roman government were seen as despicable.  The only righteous in the Pharisees eyes were the ones with the finances, power and ability to be considered clean.  Jesus came and ate with the tax collectors and sinners, welcomed the prostitutes, cared for the widows and the orphans and healed the sick, declaring them clean.  Jesus made it clear that the law is not to prove us right and others wrong, but rather to hold us to living out God’s ways of love and justice.  The Gospel lesson the following Sunday will continue on this theme–that we must live out the Word of God in ways that include rather than exclude, heal rather than hurt, forgive rather that hold against.

As Christians today we need to be weary of this.  Do we worship Jesus the Christ, or do we worship the Bible?  Are we so concerned with living out the Word to the letter that we have missed what the Word teaches us?  Are we more concerned about making statues of the Ten Commandments for others to see our righteousness, or are we living out the Ten Commandments in our lives?

We are all called to be the salt of the earth, the light of the world, but has our light grown dim because we refuse to shine it on certain people?  Have we lost our taste because we refuse to go to the places that need salt?

Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 2:1-16 that we are not only taught by Scripture, but taught by the Spirit.  Through the Spirit we understand the Scriptures, through the Spirit we interpret, through the Spirit, we learn to love others and to be open to God’s love.  Through the Spirit, we become the salt of the earth.

Isaiah 58 reminds us that true worship is not about empty actions.  It is not about only fasting and praying–though important, if we are fasting and praying for an end to the famine but not doing our part to feed the hungry, then our actions are meaningless.  Our worship must mirror what we do outside of the sanctuary.  It is, once again, not about being right but doing right.  Isaiah tells us that God wants us to stop “the pointing of the finger” but rather to “offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness, and your gloom be like the noonday” (vs 9b-10).  We let our light shine when we stop blaming the poor for becoming poor, but rather helping the poor.  When we stop looking for whose fault it is, and start instead working for a solution, we are being the salt of the earth.  When we stop looking to be right by blaming others or washing ourselves clean of all responsibility, and instead do our part to feed the hungry and clothe the naked and house the homeless, as Isaiah reminds us we are to do, then we are truly the light of the world.  We find ourselves blessed, as Psalm 112 sings, when we bless others.  We are righteous, when we do rightly for others.

Call to Worship:
Leader: Let us enter this house of worship
People: Prepared to do the work of God.
Leader: Let us open our hearts and minds
People: Prepared to do the work of God.
Leader: Let us be filled in the Spirit and mind
People: Prepared to do the work of God.
Leader: Christ calls us forth to the work of love.
People: Let us care for the sick, lift up the poor, welcome the outcast, free the oppressed.
ALL: Let us do the work of God together.

Prayer of Confession:
  Faithful God, You have brought us through good times and difficult times.  You have forgiven us when we have forgotten You.  Yet we continue to hold grudges and blame others.  We continue to believe that we are not responsible, and turn a blind eye to those who are hurting and grieving around us.  Forgive us, O God, when we are arrogant.  Forgive us, O God, when we are selfish.  Forgive us, dear Christ, when we forget to see You in the people in need around us.  In the name of Jesus, the one who died for us, we pray.  Amen.

Assurance of Pardon:
  We will sing of the mercies of the Lord forever.  We know God is always offering us another step forward when we have taken one back.  God is always showing us new opportunities to live out God’s ways of love, justice and peace.  Let us go forth, accepting God’s forgiveness and offer of New Life, and let us share that New Life with others, in word and deed.  Amen.

Prayer:
  Gracious God, we come to You with joys and burdens, concerns and hopes.  As we lift up those around us, we also lift up ourselves.  You know our inmost wounds, our deepest hurts, and we bring them to You, knowing You are our Comfort and Strength, our Present Help in our time of trial.  Grant to us, dear God, the strength to look beyond ourselves and see the needs around us.  Help us to not only be concerned about ourselves but to genuinely care for our neighbors, for have called us to love our neighbors as ourselves.  Hold us to the promise of New Life in You, that we might share that New Life now by caring for the sick, feeding the hungry, helping all those in need.  We thank You for the gift of Eternal Life through Your Son Jesus the Christ, and we also thank You that we can experience that New Life here and now on earth.  In the name of Christ. Amen.

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